Not a seat was to be had at the Avon High gym Tuesday when the blind mathematics of the Class L boys basketball tournament rankings pitted the sixth-seeded Falcons against No. 27 Farmington.
The rambunctious students from each school sat diagonally opposite the other, offering the usual, “You can’t do that,” when their foes turned the ball over. If my hearing impaired by age and multiple Grateful Dead concerts isn’t failing, I think I heard the clever, “Get your suitcase,” coming from the Avon legions when a Farmington player traveled.
As it played out, it was all good, clean fun, and certainly did not tarnish all the positive consequences the event fomented.
Late-comers, including such past FHS luminaries as former All-State center Ben Pollack and assistant coach/guard Fran Amara, were relegated to standing-room only slots near the exit. Also standing was Yale assistant Justin Simon, who came up from the City of Elm Trees, Louis Lunch and Gothic architecture to see if Farmington’s Obi Momah was Boola-Boola material.
Nobody could say they weren’t entertained, although one group was going to leave with utter disappointment. That would be Avon, which fell 57-56 after three overtime periods. The contest served as the rubber match in this year’s three-game set, in which the home team lost every time.
Farmington gets to move on to the second round, a Thursday night game against RHAM-Hebron set for the East Catholic High gym at 7 p.m. Why East Catholic?
“RHAM’s a very small gym and we don’t want to exclude anybody,” tournament director Robert “Jiggs” Cecchini said. “That’s where you get into all kinds of trouble. I had to move it.”
Farmington coach Duane Witter and his Avon counterpart Chris Vozzolo played it like chess masters, making their strategic moves very carefully. Both should be proud that they put their respective teams in a position to win multiple times.
Farmington laid back in a zone on defense and lopped minutes off the clock on offense. Look at it this way. If you have the ball near the end and the game’s tied, taking a last-second shot leaves you two alternatives: sudden victory or the license to live on for another four minutes.
When Avon had the last shot in Scoreless OT #2, Witter went with a man-to-man that his players executed passionately enough to force the Falcons into a contested shot about 20 feet from the basket.
The hero turned out to be vastly improved junior forward Colin Cheesman, who isn’t about to win any popularity contests in Avon. He also had two goals in the Farmington soccer team’s 5-0 devastation of the Falcons in the Class L championship on November 24.
With the Indians trailing 56-54, Cheesman’s rebound of a straightaway three by Vasil Borisevich resulted in two points with a chance for a third from the free throw line. The earsplitting background uproar did little to deter him. After the swish that nobody heard, he walked back to defend Avon’s last-ditch try like it was just another day in history class.
To some around the state, it goes down as an upset. A No. 27 doesn’t often knock off a No. 6 coming into the fray after burying its NCCC pretenders to the league throne. But when it comes to Farmington and Avon, the only numbers that have any bearing are the ones separated by a hyphen in the score list.
Borisevich, generously listed in the FHS boys hoop guide at 5’8, doesn’t draw any gasps with daring drives to the bucket and shoot the ball like Avon’s three-point craftsman Sean Herrmann. He just handles the ball a lot and doesn’t make many mistakes.
Justin Mango, Farmington’s other co-captain, came off the pines on several occasions to play sterling defense, deliver sensible passes and make solid decisions. Borisevich and Mango thus typify the FHS senior who has played four years for Witter.
Junior Ivan Guadalupe will be one of those four-year guys next year. Like Borisevich, he’s not a shooter and plays within himself. You don’t see too many outstanding football players contributing as well as he does on the hardwood. I’m sure he had quite the collection of floor burns Wednesday morning when he arose.
On the Avon side, how about the effort put forth by junior forward Pat McKearney? He wasn’t particularly visible in the first half, but his second-half effort reverberated through the entire Falcon team. Thanks largely to him, the four- to eight-point lead Farmington possessed for much of the first half dissolved in the third quarter.
Herrmann, a junior, combines exceptional shooting mechanics with an incredibly quick release that should assure him of playing time at the next level. Marioni is the consummate point guard and Brandon Feinberg a strong all-around player up front.
All the boys should know that when a thoroughly entertained crowd left the gym Tuesday night, some were unabashedly jubilant and others mired in a fret over what could have been. But each and every spectator came out knowing they had seen a game that will be talked about for generations in the lower Farmington Valley.